Three days, three channels, & three hot springs
The Yellowhead Highway west of Prince George has much to offer travelers, but a truly unique opportunity awaits those who drive to the terminus of Highway 37 at Kitimat. After launching their craft, boaters with a few days to spare can head southward through the picturesque Douglas Channel in search of three remote hot springs. Weewanie
Before leaving the dock, anchor your enthusiasm long enough to check your boat, motor and supplies. Whatever you don’t find at the marina will be available in town. Two marine businesses post regular hours should you have any boat-related concerns.
With your bow pointed south, you only need to motor for about an hour, passing Coste Island and Hopkins Point, before entering Devastation Channel. About 10 km further, Weewanie Hot Springs is easily spotted in a small bay a few hundred metres north of Weewanie Creek on the east side of the channel.
Many years ago, Kitimat boaters and businesses combined resources to build a modest cinderblock bathhouse just above the tide line. It provides a semi-private change area, a small washing pool, and a larger pool for soaking. Although the view is limited, the 40ºC water easily compensates and quickly puts your mind at ease. When you are sufficiently rejuvenated, you may wish to further relax with a snack or meal. BC Parks has provided a picnic table and fire ring that can be reached by a pathway from the bathhouse. There is also space for one or two small tents, should you wish to camp ashore.
What Weewanie might lack in poolside scenery is offset by other amenities. Before securing our boat to one of the two mooring buoys, we always set our crab and shrimp traps in the waters around Weewanie Creek. Next morning, our catch almost always gives us a smile.
Power craft can quickly cross over to Sue Channel, whose sheltered waters provide safe, alternate anchorages. Most people, however, come here to set their lines in hopes of landing a spring or coho. From June to September, this is one of the best salmon-fishing spots in the north end of Douglas Channel. If you wish a break in the rod-and-reel action, low tide exposes numerous beaches to explore.
To Bishop Bay Whether you spend the night at Weewanie or within Sue Channel, you may be eager to weigh anchor and head for the next bathing spot. Now might be your most difficult choice.
Heading farther south into Gardner Canal leads not only to the most picturesque hot spring, but arguably one of the finest cruising inlets along our entire coast, terminating at the Kitlope River. Heading southwest into Verney Passage will lead you into Ursula Channel, then soon after into Bishop Bay, by far the largest and most popular hot spring.
If your first choice is Bishop Bay, you won’t be disappointed. This hot spring has been a ‘go to’ site for boaters for more than a century, particularly for those travelling the inside passage. A sturdy, 18-metre dock at the eastern end of the bay easily berths four boats, and two mooring buoys provide additional anchorage. Or stay onshore: BC Parks has built a camping area with three tent platforms and a fire ring. Two minutes from the top of the gangway, a leisurely trail leads to the main attraction.
A continuous seepage of 40ºC, odorless water collects in two ample pools. One is covered and adjoins a modest changing area. If you wish to soap down first, there is a small outer pool designated for that purpose. The sheltered pool is only a step away and a perfect place to begin your soak. The only distraction to your mellow moments might be the graffiti; some find it a distraction while others enjoy reading about the boats and occupants who have stopped by. Regardless, an outer pool is an alternative that is equally relaxing.
This pool recently had its roof removed so it is perfect for a sunny afternoon or starry night. While soaking you can gaze up into the forest canopy or out across the bay. The wrap-around deck is a perfect spot to enjoy a light lunch, read, or simply watch the comings and goings.
Sometimes we go for an after-dark dip; then a restful sleep invariably follows the late-night soak. The next morning, you can decide to stay another day or plot a course for something new. Before untying your lines, check your fuel. Hartley Bay, accessed via Mackay Reach and Wright Sound, is not too far away. Many boaters choose to top up their tanks there.
Shearwater If all systems are go, keep your compass needle pointed northeast and retrace your route via Ursula Channel and Verney Passage. In short order you will be back at Staniforth Point, the official entrance to Gardner Canal.
Heading southeast from this rocky headland gives boaters a different experience. It marks the beginning of Gardner Canal, one of the longest and most scenic areas of the north coast. It terminates at the famous Kitlope Heritage Conservancy, worthy of a trip in itself if you have an extra few days for the 91-km journey. Most folks with limited time head straight for Shearwater Hot Springs. This special spot is located in a small bay on the eastern shore of the channel, about 3.6 km southeast of Shearwater Point.
Upon arriving, secure your craft to one of the two mooring buoys and head to shore. The small, open-faced shelter has an overhead platform accessed by a built-in ladder. There is plenty of room to change, hang your clothes and have a snack at the picnic table. Beneath lies a rock grotto. Many visitors consider this to be the most pleasant of the three hot springs. If you’ve had enough of the larger, sheltered pool, two steps away is a smaller pool open to the heavens and offering unparalleled views across Alan Reach. The mountains, snow-capped for most of the spring and summer, reflect off the emerald waters, creating vistas usually found in travel magazines. Keep at least one eye open for Dall’s porpoises or orcas silently slipping by.
It’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable and pleasant spot on earth. Due to its relative remoteness, privacy is almost assured. You can soak in the scenery and warmth for as long as you like; the water flows 24 hours a day. On our overnight stays, we usually return to the pools for a late-evening, candle-lit dip in the 41ºC water. Sometimes we are serenaded by a Swainson’s thrush, adding a final note to an already memorable day.
The only unpleasant thought that may (or may not) cross your mind is: eventually you will have to head home.
Before weighing anchor, you may want to make a quick exploratory trip further along the bay. A Haisla Nation cabin built next to the unnamed creek might be helpful to dry clothes or provide shelter in an emergency. Watch for wildlife: small estuaries like this are magnets for black bears and deer; grizzlies and wolves frequent shoreline areas as well.
A trip through the passages, inlets, and bays of this area will be long remembered, with its exceptional scenery, great fishing, whale watching, and wildlife sightings. This is a quiet area without the bustle of more populated hot-spots. And it is the only place along our coastline where you can visit three different hot springs in just three days.
More info: Marine Chart # 3743, Douglas Channel covers all three hot-spring locations, but only the northern approach to Hartley Bay Marine Chart # 3742 covers Verney Passage, Wright Sound and all approaches to Hartley Bay
All three hot springs are located within a BC Park or Conservancy. Normal park or conservancy regulations apply except no fees are collected at any of the sites mentioned. Facilities are minimal. Pit toilets, tent areas and a fire ring are provided at Weewanie and Bishop Bay Hot Springs, but not Shearwater. Weewanie and Shearwater Hot Springs each have a picnic table.
Bishop Bay Hot Springs: N 53° 28’ 11.89”, W 128° 50’ 11.85”
Weewanie Hot Springs: N 53° 41’ 36.95”, W 128° 47’ 33.06”
Weewanie Creek Haisla Cabin: N 53° 41’ 28.62”, W 128° 47’ 31.80”
Shearwater Hot Springs and Haisla Cabin: N 53° 27’ 01.83”, W 128° 33’ 35.78”